FROM THE RECTOR: RICHARD JOSEPH LEITSCH, 1935-2018
This is the homily I preached at the Burial of the Dead for Dick Leitsch on Thursday, June 28, 2018. --S.G.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was for over two decades a leader of part of the Orthodox Jewish community in the Commonwealth-what we Americans often call "The British Commonwealth of Nations," but it's simply "The Commonwealth." I follow his blog called Covenant and Conversation. This week his topic was "A People that Dwell Alone." He wrote about the revival of Anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere--and these are his words-"within living memory of the Holocaust." His starting point was a phrase from the fourth book of Moses, Numbers, "a people dwelling alone" (Numbers 23:9). He writes, "If people do not like you for what you are, they will not like you more for pretending to be what you are not." He summarized his reflection with these words, "In our uniqueness lies our universality. By being what only we are, we contribute to humanity what only we can give."
I think Rabbi Sacks' words also describe how a Christian at his or her best approaches life and faith. In John, Jesus put it this way, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32).
On Sunday afternoon, Father Jim Pace and I went to the Pride Parade. We ended up standing across the street from the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street. It was crowded. We were close to small groups of friends who seemed to be young LGBT folks. We were also standing next to a young heterosexual Asian couple with a toddler who were also watching the parade with lots of smiles. There were so many younger people, more than I remember there being ten or more years ago. On Sunday we stood in the midst of the great uniqueness and diversity of humankind.
Forty-nine years ago today, very early in the morning, the first night of the Stonewall Uprising took place. The police would return in force for five more nights to try to take control of Christopher Street. They never did, and on July 3, 1969, they did not come back.
After this Mass we will take Dick's ashes to the columbarium at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn and from Julius-the bar Dick and his friends helped make famous. The village was special for Dick. It was one of the places he felt at home.
I first knew Dick Leitsch as an older man who came to Mass here and prayed but did not receive communion. I quickly learned his name, but it would be some years before I knew about his remarkable life. After he had been coming regularly for a while, I pressed him about receiving communion. I got him to the altar rail, and I let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the work.
Dick respected what we might call the Anglican, or Episcopal, approach to faith. There are plenty of jokes--mostly bad--about the differences between different Christian traditions and denominations. At our best, our Anglican tradition respects the relationship all human beings have with their Creator. And our tradition calls on us to be in right relationship with each other. Again, the words of Rabbi Sacks, "In our uniqueness lies our universality. By being what only we are, we contribute to humanity what only we can give."
Dick could tell you how the world had changed in his lifetime and how people can change, even though some people resist change and try to remain the same. For all of the challenges of his life, Dick took great pride in seeing the changes his generation helped bring about for all of us. It made him happy that more people are able simply to be themselves. We still live in a world where most practicing Christians don't want women at their altars or homosexuals in their pews, but more and more the issue today is what kind of person you are-and not your race, your gender, your gender identification, or your sexuality.
Dick was a courageous human being--and I think it is right to say that his conscience and his convictions were shaped by his family and his Roman Catholic childhood. He took what he had been given and kept going. He had enough sense of self to act on what he believed was right--at a time when almost the whole world was against him because he loved another man.
How you and I hear and live truth in our lives shapes not only our own lives, but the lives of those who come after us. With respect for all who are here, I close by repeating the words of the one I know as the Good Shepherd, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Eugenia, Ptolemy, Sheila, Marcy, Nadira, Peter, Ron, Rhonda, Eloise, Angie, Maxine, Anita, George, Alex, Dora, Marilouise, Dennis, Bob, Abe, Randy, Burt, Mike, Kyle, Greta, Karen, Melissa, Eugenia, May, Heidi, Ridhima, Marissa, Takeem, David, and Sandy; for Horace, Gaylord, Louis, and Edgar, priests; for all the benefactors and friends of this parish; and for the repose of the soul of Richard Joseph Leitsch.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 1: 1936 Aida Virginia Harrison; 1948 Elizabeth Harvey Higman; 1965 Florence Brackett; 1993 R. Tyler Gatchell.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the Lord's crucifixion.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . On Wednesday, July 4, Independence Day, the church will be open between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. The noonday services will be offered. The parish office is closed . . . Friday, July 6, 6:30 PM, Centering Prayer Group, Atrium, Parish Hall, Second Floor.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Blair Burroughs was elected a member of the board of trustees at its meeting on June 18. Blair has been a member of Saint Mary's for thirteen years. He and his wife, Renée Pecquex, are regular members of the 11:00 AM Sunday congregation and are part of the Centering Prayer Group . . . June Father Jay Smith will be away from the parish on vacation until Monday, July 9 . . . Father Gerth will be away from the parish from Friday, June 29, until Monday afternoon, July 2. While he is away, Father Jim Pace will be in residence, and Father Park Bodie will be celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM Masses on Sunday, July 1 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 144.
ABOUT THE MUSIC . . . The cantor at the Solemn Mass on Sunday is countertenor Jonathan May, who has sung occasionally at Saint Mary's in the past and, happily, will be a regular presence in the choir of Saint Mary's this fall. During the ministration of Communion, Mr. May will sing the setting of Psalm 23 from Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Bernstein, whose centennial is being widely celebrated this year, was a man of remarkably varied musical gifts who brought great energy and freshness to the mid-twentieth-century American classical music scene, particularly as a conductor and composer.
Chichester Psalms was commissioned for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival at Chichester Cathedral. It was one of the many notable works of musical and visual art commissioned under the guidance of the Cathedral's visionary dean Walter Hussey (1909-1985). Its world premiere was on 15 July 1965 at Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, with Bernstein himself conducting, followed by its Chichester Cathedral festival performance under John Birch's direction sixteen days later. Chichester Psalms has been described as one of Bernstein's two most overtly Jewish works. The second of its three movements is framed by portions of Psalm 23 sung in Hebrew by a treble voice. Bernstein was explicit in directing that the singer be a countertenor or boy soprano, as if to suggest that it might be the young psalmist, David himself, singing these words. It is these portions of Chichester Psalms which will be sung during the ministration of communion today. —David Hurd
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY'S . . . If you would like to make a donation to the Diocese of New York's Caribbean Recovery Fund, you may do so online. From the diocesan website, "[The Recovery Fund is meant] to pay for the work that we propose to do and/or support in this region. This is distinct in nature and purpose from the activities of Episcopal Relief & Development, which directs funds toward the Episcopal Church's broader efforts in recovery. The Caribbean Recovery Fund will be available for individuals and churches in partnership to make requests for specific infrastructure and ministry projects, partnerships, and mission with the Diocese of Puerto Rico and other areas in the Caribbean" . . . Donations and volunteers are needed for our next Drop-in Day on July 11, and for the many requests for assistance between Drop-in Days . . . Please contact Sister Monica Clare if you would like to volunteer for this important ministry or if you would like to make a donation . . . We continue to receive nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, Saint Clement's Food Pantry. Please place those items in the basket near the ushers' table at the Forty-sixth Street entrance to the church.
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Monday, July 23, Saint Mary Magdalene (transferred) . . . Wednesday, July 25, Saint James the Apostle . . . Monday, August 6, The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Tuesday, August 14, The Eve of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . Wednesday, August 15, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . Friday, August 24, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle . . . Monday, September 3, Labor Day.
AT THE GALLERIES . . . At the Jewish History Center, 15 West Sixteenth Street, New York, NY (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues): 1938 Projekt: Posts from the Past. From the Center's website, "Eighty years after the events of 1938, how does one grasp the mixture of horror and surprise felt by the victims of the Nazi regime? One significant way is to look at the letters, diaries, and photographs saved by German Jews and their families. Using documents from our archives and those of several partner institutions, the Leo Baeck Institute - New York | Berlin will update www.1938projekt.org with personal stories based on documents from our own collections and the collections of partner institutions-one for each day in 1938. These materials illustrate the range of reactions and emotions that individuals and families had as they struggled to escape Germany and Austria in order to survive. In addition, significant world events are described alongside the calendar entries to provide a broad context for the individual stories."